GRAHAM FREUDENBERG. The travesty of Britain’s greatest legacy – parliamentary government

Nov 24, 2016


To my generation which saw the almost bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union, Trump’s election is small beer in the scale of improbabilities. But the combination of Trump and Brexit, so improbable scarcely a year ago, raises a more astonishing proposition.

It is that so much of our hopes for stability and the success of Western liberalism should now centre so largely on Germany! The question can even be put in the terms Disraeli used in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian war and Bismarck’s Proclamation of the German Empire in the Palace of Versailles: “Is it to be a European Germany or a German Europe?” 

Within that question lies the tragedy of Brexit. For only the United Kingdom had the depth of history, the institutional and cultural norms to ensure a truly European Germany.

Remove Britain from Europe – and we are left with a nervous, if not neurotic France waiting for another De Gaulle, Italy half expecting another Berlusconi and Eastern Europe, Poland, the Baltic States and a divided Ukraine ravaged still by their historic fears and hatreds of Russia.

Meanwhile Trump’s USA will swing between neo-isolationism and nostalgia for the glory days of the 1950s; and will most likely settle for a permanent posture of hostility towards China.

Britain, or what is left of it when Scotland leaves, is still a member of NATO. But NATO grows increasingly unanswerable to anybody or any elected government; and only Germany is left to resist its mindless eastward expansionism.

It is exactly 60 years since Harold Macmillan, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that unless they took the Suez Canal back from Egypt’s Nasser, Britain would become ‘just another Netherlands’. Being ‘another Netherlands’ is far from the worst fate that can befall a nation. But as Prime Minister, Macmillan presided over the liquidation of much of the empire; instead, he made valiant efforts to get Britain into Europe (the then EEC). De Gaulle thwarted him; but getting into Europe became a bipartisan effort, successfully in 1973. 

Now we have the disgraceful farce of a British Tory government holding office to implement a policy to which its majority – and a majority of the House of Commons – is profoundly opposed. This is the nullification of the foundational principle of responsible government.

It is easy enough to envisage a new role for England – the mercenary of the West. Britain still has fine armed forces. With the discrediting of parliament it is already possible to discern a military cult being developed around the monarchy and the Royal family, with the focus on William and Harry. Prince William is being allowed, and presumably encouraged to make political utterances inconceivable for Queen Elizabeth, and indeed, for Queen Victoria. This new Royal cult goes much deeper than the old ‘Women’s Weekly’ stuff.

So, perhaps not so much ‘another Netherlands’, but a ‘Nepal with the bomb!’

I am no John of Gaunt, ‘a prophet new inspired’. But I do not doubt that many thousands of good Britons read his dying speech in Shakespeare for inspiration when they were thinking about their vote on 23 June 2016. It is the greatest expression of love of England ever written (Shakespeare: King Richard II, Act II, Scene I). The marvellous paradox is that these words are not about a narrow ‘little England’ with its ‘fortress built by Nature for herself against infection and the hand of war’ – and refugees.

They are about an England of honour and good faith – the antithesis of the spirit of Brexit, and even more against the spirit of UKIP and the Conservative and Labour time-servers who have allowed this travesty of Britain’s greatest legacy – parliamentary government – in a harmful, selfish and needless process which is the very falsification of parliamentary democracy and Cabinet responsibility as they have developed over three hundred years. I believe Brexit is Britain’s worst wrong turn since they rejected Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland in 1886, and of which King George V himself said in 1922 ‘What fools we were’.

Fortunately, I have never been a good political prophet and I can only hope that my predictions spring from not the clarity but the rashness of old age.

Graham Freudenberg AM is an Australian author and political speechwriter who worked in the Australian Labor Party for over forty years. He has written over a thousand speeches for several leaders of the Australian Labor Party at the NSW state and the federal level. These have included Arthur Calwell, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth, Bob Carr and Simon Crean.  In 1990 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to journalism, to parliament and to politics.  In 2005 he was inducted as a life member of the NSW ALP.

He is the author of four books to date:  A Certain Grandeur – Gough Whitlam in Politics, Penguin 1977;  A Cause for Power – the Centenary History of the NSW Labor Party, Australian Labor Party, 1991;  A Figure of Speech (autobiography), John Wiley & Sons Australia, 2005; and Churchill and Australia, Pan Macmillan, 2008. 

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